Medical marijuana dispensaries could be allowed in more areas of San Francisco 

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos introduced a proposal that would ban pot clubs from opening within 500 feet of each other; one block of Mission Street in his district has two pot clubs. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Supervisor John Avalos introduced a proposal that would ban pot clubs from opening within 500 feet of each other; one block of Mission Street in his district has two pot clubs.

San Francisco will consider allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open in more locations following controversy over one city supervisor’s proposal to make it even harder for such businesses to locate in the Outer Mission neighborhood.

After three medical marijuana dispensaries were permitted in the Outer Mission within close proximity of one another — two on one block — Supervisor John Avalos, whose district includes the neighborhood, introduced an anti-clustering proposal that would prohibit clubs from opening within 500 feet of one another in that neighborhood. The effort has stirred up a hornet’s nest of medical marijuana advocates who say it could undermine the entire regulatory system.  

Instead, advocates say it’s high time The City allow dispensaries to open in more areas.

Avalos’ proposal is expected to come before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Monday, just weeks after landlords of several dispensaries in San Francisco received letters from Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, telling them to shut down the operations or face prosecution. Similar letters sent last year led to eight dispensaries closing. There are currently 25 permitted in The City, according to the Department of Public Health.

Amid this uproar, Avalos has, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to launch a study of the 2005 zoning laws that created so-called “green zones,” areas where it is legal for dispensaries to locate if they obtain city permits. Under the law, whole sections of The City were made off-limits to dispensaries. In allowable areas, they cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools or recreation buildings serving youths.

It’s estimated the allowable area comprises 10 percent of The City’s land mass.

Avalos said he will request during today’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the Planning and Public Health departments study existing law and recommend zoning changes.

Shona Gochenaur, a medical marijuana activist and executive director of low-income dispensary patient collective Axis of Love, said zoning restrictions should be eliminated.

“We have a green-light district,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the best plan for medical cannabis. It’s not accessible when you have to travel an hour and a half on Muni to get to where the clubs are located.”

Avalos said he didn’t think it was his responsibility to address citywide zoning since there are other supervisorial districts with more dispensaries, but, “No one wanted to lift a finger.” Avalos said he is now taking the lead. He added that one of the reasons the controls haven’t changed since 2005 was because there was not a “monolithic” voice from the medical marijuana community, and a city task force set up to draft recommendations “imploded.”
Delving into medical marijuana policies is challenging. The industry is young, there are varied interests and personalities, marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, and residents in some communities are adamantly opposed to dispensaries. There is no dispensary in the Sunset district, for example.

Avalos has backed off his initial proposal to outright ban dispensaries within 500 feet of one another in the Outer Mission. Instead, he wants to require a special conditional-use permit, which comes with increased public notice and approval that can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

“I’ve never had any resident of my district say we need [a dispensary],” Avalos said.

While advocates are slamming Avalos’ effort, others in his district want even tougher controls. Angie Minkin, chair of the Excelsior Action Group, said during a recent public meeting that “we would like to see a 1,000-foot buffer zone. Five hundred feet is a block. We’re talking about no [dispensaries] within two blocks of each other.” She added that it’s a quality-of-life issue.

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